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Neighborhood Watch, Block Watch or Crime Watch—whatever the term may be—is one of the most effective and least costly ways to prevent crime and reduce fear. Having a safe, secure and informed neighborhood whose members communicate is a helpful and proven way to protect yourself, your family and your neighbors.

In Palmdale, the Crime Prevention Department has come up with a unique way to involve more neighborhoods in forming a coalition against crime with the introduction of “Sidewalk Neighborhood Watch.” In this instance, residents of each neighborhood can discuss with law enforcement and local crime prevention experts the best practices for reducing crime and maintaining personal safety.

Citizens working together for safety

“Sidewalk meetings are a way for us to bring Neighborhood Watch and crime prevention information into neighborhoods where formal groups are not active,” said Ruth Oschmann, Palmdale crime prevention specialist. “We want everyone to have this information so they can work together to keep themselves and their families safe.” The meetings will be conducted at 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday this summer with residents encouraged to request a meeting—anonymously if they prefer—by contacting the Palmdale Crime Prevention office at (661) 267-5170.

“We encourage our residents to come out and discuss any issues that concern them since these may relate to crime reduction and prevention,” Oschmann said. “Come to these meetings and let us know the area where you live, and we can provide valuable information that can help to keep your neighborhood protected against crime.”

Neighborhood Watch programs became popular in the early 1970s and since then have expanded to almost 40 percent of U.S. residential populations being covered by such citizen crime-watching policies. These neighborhood associations typically involve recruiting residents to participate in community meetings and various surveillance tasks around properties and common areas. Often, a block captain or a coordinator may take leadership roles serving primarily as liaisons to local police and not as “self-appointed” peace officers. About 10 years ago, the U.S. Department of Justice analyzed the question “Does Neighborhood Watch Reduce Crime?” and reported, among other findings, that citizen policing programs were associated with a “significant reduction in crime.” On average, there was a 16-percent decrease in crime in Neighborhood Watch communities when compared with neighborhoods which did not participate in the program. They were not able, however, to fully determine if Neighborhood Watch postings (i.e. signs or fliers alerting potential criminals that a certain block is under citizen patrol) deterred criminals from committing a crime, if they believed that a certain area was “too risky” because of increased police patrols in and of themselves were the main deterrent to potential criminal activity. Whatever the Justice Department findings, many people attest that Neighborhood Watch has had a positive effect on crime prevention.

Addressing crime “one block at a time”

The Justice Department analysis also discovered that in some neighborhoods with the highest crime rates, the people were the most reluctant to organize. They found that many people refuse to host or attend community meetings for fear of gang retribution. Some people, according to the analysis, didn’t think that crime could be reduced “one block at a time,” while others simply didn’t trust their neighbors to cooperate such as watching out when someone is away from home for days at a time, or calling the police when witnessing suspicious activity.

Having a safe, secure and informed neighborhood that communicates is a helpful way to maintain a happy and peaceful home life. It is always a good idea to take a more active role in your family’s safety, therefore Neighborhood Watch brings households together to help prevent or reduce crime. When potential criminals see “Neighborhood Watch” signs in windows, this means that homeowners have become more vigilant in protecting their property and those around them. Law enforcement has long believed that when a neighborhood takes a responsible role in its own safety, it can only serve to alleviate the pressures on already strained law enforcement budgets. It serves everyone well for the Neighborhood Watch program and the local police to work together to help prevent crime.

Law enforcement helps the watch program by providing training, equipment and officers who may be assigned to the program. These officers, who may be assigned to patrol a certain neighborhood, attend Neighborhood Watch meetings and help residents understand the potential for crime and explain what issues the watch needs to consider by providing the latest crime reports and statistics.

Getting to know your neighbors can be challenging, particularly in light of daily responsibilities of parenting, work, and the general duties of home life. A Neighborhood Watch serves a purpose besides public safety, and that is being neighborly. When a person is called upon to help ensure the safety of their neighbors, there is a natural tendency to get to know one another better, say officials. A watch meeting or program, in general, can be a natural impetus for learning more about one another’s lives and families. Neighborhood Watch can promote a general sense of well-being that overlaps into the social realm, and can give even more reason to look after your neighbors.

“Are We Safe” survey

The National Crime Prevention Council, with support from ADT Security Services Inc., releases a periodic crime survey called “Are We Safe” which measures attitudes and behaviors about crime prevention throughout the country. Despite decreases in crime, the latest survey taken in 2014 found that fear and anxiety about crime persists. Basically, the survey found, if people don’t feel safe in their respective communities, we change our activities and withdraw from community life. This negative chain is said to perpetuate itself by generating more fear, isolation and increased crime. Among the survey findings were:

—Seventeen percent of the people surveyed said they were more fearful of walking in their neighborhoods [this] year than last;

—Nearly one-half of the respondents could name at least one program in their community that helps to prevent crime. Neighborhood Watch was cited by 45 percent of those surveyed;

—Approximately one in six Americans (or 17 percent of volunteers ) are in a program that prevents crime. Of those who are volunteers, four in 10 work with Neighborhood Watch.

The survey also looked at the concern people have about the safety of their children, and what risks are posed when they are exposed to crime and violence in their neighborhoods:

—Three out of 10 families reportedly left their children under 18 years at home without adult supervision for at least 30 minutes during the work week;

—One in four families left a child at home without adult care for 30 minutes or more at least sometime during the weekend.

Finally, the survey included results about the number of adults who believe that observing the “coming-and-going” at a neighbor’s house can help reduce residential burglaries and robberies:

—About eight in 10 residents have a neighbor who would watch their home, while they are away;

—One in five respondents who don’t volunteer with Neighborhood Watch said he/she is unaware of where to go or whom to contact about forming such a group;

—Eighty-three percent of those participating in the survey either “agree” or “strongly agree” that they should work with their neighbors to solve community problems.

Steady drop in property crimes

Local law enforcement jurisdictions, such as the Palmdale Sheriff’s, have seen a marked reduction in property crimes over the past five years. They say that Neighborhood Watch fights the isolation crime both creates and feeds upon by forging bonds among area residents, helping reduce burglaries and robberies, and in improving relations between law enforcement and the communities they serve. Because today’s transient society produces communities that are less personal—with many families composed of two working parents and children involved in many activities outside the home—an empty house in a neighborhood where none of the residents know one another particularly well can be a target for burglary. Neighborhood Watch can help to alleviate this problem because the program begins with people keeping in touch with one another, such as knowing the approximate time a neighbor leaves and returns from work, and also who may be expected to visit a residence, when a particular person or couple is not home. Most burglaries occur when a house is known to be empty say officials, usually during the daylight hours.

It is not difficult to form a Neighborhood Watch contingent. All it takes is a motivated individual, a community organization or a law enforcement agency to spearhead efforts to establish the group. Together, these entities can organize a small planning committee of neighbors to discuss needs, the level of interest and the possible community problems. At this point, it is vital that you contact law enforcement such as the Palmdale Sheriff’s Department or the Palmdale Crime Prevention office for help in training members in home security and reporting skills and for information on local crime patterns. Once this is done, members usually conduct an initial meeting to gauge neighbors’ interest, establish the purpose of the program, and begin to identify issues that need to be addressed.

Get to know your neighbor

It is important that a Neighborhood Watch group have a trusted coordinator. This person may also serve as a block captain who will be responsible for relaying information to members in a timely matter. It is important to recruit new members, also, therefore it is a good idea to keep up-to-date on new persons who may move onto a block and you should make a special effort to include the elderly, working parents and youth as part of the Neighborhood Watch team. Any resident can join a Neighborhood Watch, even the busiest of people can do their part to keep an eye on our neighbors—and strangers—as they come and go.

“Neighborhood Watch is an important crime fighting tool because the Sheriff’s Department can’t be everywhere,” Oschmann said. Palmdale hosts just in excess of 400 such groups, comprised of about 20 persons each. “Our deputies don’t know the neighborhood as well as residents, therefore Neighborhood Watch can serve as the ‘eyes and ears’ for the department. And it brings back a sense of community because too often we’re involved in a ‘cocoon’ or ‘bubble’ type of lifestyle. We retreat to our homes, our cars, or place of work—to the places we’re most familiar—and we don’t look out as much for each other’s welfare. We don’t communicate enough with our neighbors. Neighborhood Watch programs bring people together under a common goal of making our community safer places.”

Oschmann added that the upcoming National Night Out, scheduled from 4 to 8 p.m. July 26 at Dominic Massari Park in Palmdale, serves as a natural tie-in to Neighborhood Watch in which the community comes together to learn about ways to make their neighborhoods safer … and an opportunity to meet members of their community. National Night Out is a community-building campaign that promotes police-community partnerships and neighborhood camaraderie to make neighborhoods safer and to foster a true sense of community.

“We invite all Palmdale residents to join us on the evening of July 26 to watch safety demonstrations, hear from law enforcement and learn the ways that each individual can help reduce crime and make a positive impact on their community,” Oschmann said.